Author Archives: zkamash2013

The Poetry of Food – poems by Dan Simpson inspired by the ‘Food for Thought’ exhibition

These three poems were written in response to the Food for Thought exhibition, generously funded by the Roman Society and supported by the Corinium Museum. I’ve been writing poems based on British Roman history and artefacts as part of my work at the Roman Museum in Canterbury (https://canterburyromanresident.wordpress.com), so was delighted to be asked to do the same at the Corinium. There are lots of approaches to creating this kind of work, but I am personally interested in the small and everyday objects – they really do link us to our past, and tell us something of the people we come from.

Dan reciting his poems at the launch of the 'Food for Thought' exhibition.

Dan reciting his poems at the launch of the ‘Food for Thought’ exhibition.

Dan with the 'Food for Thought' team at the exhibition event.

Dan with the ‘Food for Thought’ team at the exhibition event.

Eternal Dog of the Hunting Cup

I was struck by the sense of movement the potter had captured in the dog depicted on the hunting cup. I looked into how dogs had co-existed with humans for millennia, being one of the fundamental species that helped our survival. I got to thinking about Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, and how he sees the love scene depicted on that object as immortalised. I wanted to do the same for the dog – and indeed, some of the lines in poem are directly adapted from the Keats’.

Dan musing about the Hunt Cups.

Dan musing about the Hunt Cups.

Ah happy, happy dog!

forever panting, and forever young

we can almost hear your barks of joy

the curl of your tail swinging back and forth

as the swift bounding of your legs

carries you eagerly over eternal ground.

You are not a nobleman’s hunting dog

all well-fed and well-bred muscle

sleek coat slipping through undergrowth

blood-scent in your sharp nose

keen-eyed and fleet-footed foe of deer and hare

nor are you some mongrel cur

snuffling through waste for scraps

a vagrant beast of burden

your ears and head drooping

your stomach growling more than your throat.

You are not a farmer’s black watchdog

eating with the family

as if you are one of them

standing silent guard in the household

alert for shadows moving in the night

nor are you a child’s over-indulged pet

fat from food fed from the table

lazily curling up next to your mistress

legs kicking as you dream of rabbits

fearful of other dogs not so well treated.

You are not the shepherd’s white dog

nipping at the legs of stray sheep

guardian and keeper of the flock

chasing away your wolf cousins

your lineage and history forgotten

nor are you a dog of war

half-starved and constantly beaten

made ferocious by the hands and whips of man

returned to your wild wolf origins

let slip to fight in the politics of conquest.

Caught in full flight made static by the potter

you have no name: you are every dog

man has ever loved and lived with

your barks echo back and forth down the ages

companionship resonating with the warmth of centuries

as timeless as the earth you are made from.

Prayer to Bacchus

The child’s drinking vessel is an interesting object as it’s adorned with vines and grapes – signs of Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry. This wouldn’t be something obvious to put on a child’s object! I wanted to imagine why this might have happened, and who would get their child such an object. I settled on a new father, who was perhaps regretting his overindulgence and wanted to make peace with the gods through a prayer.

Dan with the objects from the British Museum. You can see the baby feeder in the bottom left-hand corner of the case.

Dan with the objects from the British Museum. You can see the baby feeder in the bottom left-hand corner of the case.

Janus, hear my prayer

you, god of many faces and roles:

as Consevius you have created new life

blessed my marriage with a beginning

Janus, you have opened a portal in time

as my child sets out on his life’s journey –

hear my prayer.

Bacchus, see my child

you, god of the harvest and fertility

who have been kind to me already

now I ask more of you:

for though you are god of bliss and pleasure

you, god of wine, have another face –

that of bitterness and fury.

Do not let my son inherit the weakness of his father:

I am too often found sat, alone and in company

my wine cup constantly empty and full

with a serpent lying in wait coiled around my happiness

the poison ivy of cynicism creeping through my veins

my thyrsus in hand, wand turned to weapon

the raging bull of my anger ready to charge.

Bacchus, do not look on my son with this drunk darkness

but rather with smiles and red-faced delight

do not tempt my child to the ruin I have suffered

but rather to understand you as a fickle god

the pleasures of your madness and ecstasy as transient

wine as occasional and brilliant as music and dance

a fleeting beauty, not a permanent scar.

I honour you with this drinking vessel

adorned with vines and fig trees

your hopeful symbols of life and joy

given to my child so he may always remember you

I leave wine in this bowl in dedication of you

freshly-harvested corn for the eternal feast

accept my sacrifices, Bacchus.

Hear my prayer, Vesta

goddess of hearth and home

I seal my words with you

with the intensity of sacred fire:

may the future for my son

be not one of struggle and strife

but of harmony with Bacchus.

Corinium Cockerel

I knew I had to write a poem on the Corinium Cockerel – the artefact is truly beautiful, and its backstory is tragic and intriguing. It’s the kind of object you want to reach out to and hold with your hands, and I can imagine that being especially true for a child. As it was buried in a child’s grave, it must have been loved by them – and the child in turn loved by the family.

To see the cockerel and hear Dan’s poem, click here.

Dan absorbed by the cockerel.

Dan absorbed by the cockerel.

Go, cockerel: I send you away from my household

and into the next world with my child

she, who was so fond of you in life

demanding to hold and play with you

at every moment of the day

from her waking cry at first light

to her softly-breathing sleep at night.

In some ways you are alive

animated by the craft of the bronze-worker

his hands shaping the prideful curve of breast and wing

the definite fix of comb and wattle

the lively detail of eye and beak

but it was my child who – like some infant Pygmalion –

breathed life into you through her love.

And yet more than this – we all gave you spirit:

in the hollow of your back you hold memories

household stories of a mother’s love

everyday moments of a father’s affection

sounds of siblings’ teasing and laughter

the clash and clatter of an entire household

turning our villa inside out, trying to find you when lost.

The dark shade of night’s sky lightens to deep blue

after this profoundly long and severe night

and I remember that you are Mercury’s creature:

heralding the coming of the light with a cry of triumph

a message from the gods that a new day is here

that we mortals are not forgotten by the gods

hope rising as surely – and slowly – as the sun.

Speak for me now, you who may speak freely with Mercury

tell him of my child who can no longer see that light

nor feel the first touch of Sol’s warmth

put my anguish into your crowing

give voice to my grief where I can not

so that the gods may know

something of mortal suffering.

Tell Apollo that his medicine does not always work

and that Mors has eager teeth to take one so young

crow for her who can no longer cry

and charge Mercury to see her safe

in her passage to the afterlife

where I may see her again one day

holding you, cockerel, as I hold you now.

To find out more about Dan and his poetry, click here.

To hear Dan recite these poems, click here.

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Try this at home! Recipes from the Roman Food Festival (30-31 May 2015)

Last weekend we had a great time tasting, sniffing and touching Roman food and food remains. For those of you who couldn’t make it, or for those who want more, here are recipes for some of the food from the festival.

Sampling some of these recipes at the festival.

Sampling some of these recipes at the festival.

Mulsum

Mulsum was a wine flavoured with spices and sweetened with honey, mixed in just before it was drunk. The taste is similar to mulled wine, but more watery.

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 4 tbsp runny honey

Add all the ingredients to a large container or pitcher and stir well. Refrigerate for 24 hours to allow the spices to infuse, then remove the cinnamon stick and cloves. Serve warm or chilled

This will make about 4 cups and can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 5 days.

If you are using a thick honey, you may need to blend the wine, water and honey before adding in the spices.

Simon's 'Marcham Mulsum' - are these the modern equivalent of amphorae?

Simon’s ‘Marcham Mulsum’ – are these the modern equivalent of amphorae?

Moretum

Moretum is the name given to a dish prepared in a mortarium or grinding bowl – like a modern pestle and mortar. It is often made of fresh cheese, herbs, olive oil and vinegar and is very similar to what we call pesto. Virgil, a Roman poet, even wrote a poem dedicated to moretum.

  • 1 small head of lettuce
  • 100g fresh mint
  • 50 g fresh parsley
  • 200 g ricotta cheese
  • Pepper
  • 1 small leek/celery
  • 50 g coriander seeds
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • Vinegar
  • Olive oil

Process all the ingredients in a food processor – or to be more authentic, in a pestle and mortar.

You can use this as a dip with celery and carrot sticks. You could also spread it on Roman bread – for a recipe, click here.

 

Libum

Libum was a special kind of cake used as an offering to the gods that was sweetened with honey. The recipe comes from Cato (De Agricultura 75), but the cakes are also mentioned by Roman poets, like Ovid.

  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 beaten egg
  • ½ cup clear honey
  • Bay leaves

Grease a baking tray and cover with the bay leaves. Beat the cheese until smooth. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Slowly add the flour to the beaten cheese and egg. Gather up the dough and gently form into a round ball (for one large cake) or into small balls (for smaller cakes). Place the ball(s) directly onto the bay leaves. Bake in a hot oven (425F/200C/gas mark 7) for c 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and score . Warm the honey and pour over the cake(s). Serve warm.

Simon and the Trendles Project with their foodstuffs ready for sampling!

Simon and the Trendles Project with their foodstuffs ready for sampling!

These recipes were cooked and selected for the festival by Simon Blackmore, who is one of the Trendles Project team. We are very grateful to Simon and the Trendles Project for sharing their food with us! To find out more about the Trendles Project, visit their website.

Food for Thought Exhibition: Installation Day 3

Today began much more smoothly with no transportation hiccups. In the morning, Miranda Creswell and I installed her ‘Chop Marks’ exhibit. The exhibit comprises a set of modern, used chopping boards (including one of mine!) on which Miranda has responded to the chop marks in her drawings of imagined landscapes. We also did a trial run of Heather’s projection, which shows objects that we weren’t able to include in the exhibition – happy to say, it all works. In my opinion, both ‘Chop Marks’ and the projection add some lovely texture to the exhibition. We then spent the rest of the afternoon doing the finishing touches, ready (nearly) for our preview tomorrow evening.

Miranda, making sure that 'Chop Marks' is looking its best.

Miranda, making sure that ‘Chop Marks’ is looking its best.

Any measures to make sure everything is hanging correctly!

Any measures to make sure everything is hanging correctly!

Food objects have many uses - here my upside-down (modern) pie dish makes for a very handy projector prop.

Food objects have many uses – here my upside-down (modern) pie dish makes for a very handy projector prop.

Numbering the exhibits - these little stickers are surprisingly fiddly and difficult to get straight.

Numbering the exhibits – these little stickers are surprisingly fiddly and difficult to get straight.

Case labels waiting to take their place in the exhibition.

Case labels waiting to take their place in the exhibition.

And my final job of the day - touching up the paintwork.

And my final job of the day – touching up the paintwork.

If you would like to know more about Miranda’s art, you can follow her on twitter:

@MirandaCreswell

and read her blog at: https://visualenglaid.wordpress.com

Food for Thought Exhibition: Installation Day 2

Today did not start well – Heather’s car wouldn’t start and Lisa was stuck on a train with a flat tyre (!). We battled on, however, and by the end of the day we had made lots of progress. While I was out collecting Lisa from the train station, James and Dan hung our panels. When we had everyone together in the museum, we then continued installing the rest of the objects, using material from Corinium Museum’s stores and from the University of Reading’s Silchester Insula IX Townlife project. Dan also spent some time planning his gallery talk on learning about food from Roman pottery, which will be on 21st May, and gathering food memories from the staff of the museum to hang on our memory trees.

Yay! Against the odds, Heather and Lisa have both made it to the museum!

Yay! Against the odds, Heather and Lisa have both made it to the museum!

Lisa adding some seeds from Silchester to the 'How do we know about Roman food?' case.

Lisa adding some seeds from Silchester to the ‘How do we know about Roman food?’ case.

Our memory trees, already filling up with people's food memories. The trees are both olive trees, which were grown widely around the Mediterranean during the Roman period.

Our memory trees, already filling up with people’s food memories. The trees are both olive trees, which were grown widely around the Mediterranean during the Roman period.

What food memory will you share with us? If you can't come to the exhibition ,you could tweet us @NotJustDormice

What food memory will you share with us? If you can’t come to the exhibition, you could tweet us @NotJustDormice

Food For Thought Exhibition: Installation Day 1

Today saw the first objects being installed at our exhibition. A great big thank you to Vikki Jessop from the British Museum for all her expertise and help installing the objects that we have on loan. Looking forward to day 2!

After months of waiting, the truck has arrived!

After months of waiting, the truck has arrived!

Unpacking the first box of objects.

Unpacking the first box of objects.

Our poster boy, Bacchus, emerging from his packaging.

Our poster boy, Bacchus, emerging from his packaging.

Corinium Museum's Director, Amanda Hart, and Vikki Jessop from the British Museum checking the condition of Bacchus after his journey.

Corinium Museum’s Director, Amanda Hart, and Vikki Jessop from the British Museum checking the condition of Bacchus after his journey.

Vikki and I carefully place Bacchus into his new home for the next three months.

Vikki and I carefully place Bacchus into his new home for the next three months.

The mule-shaped couch decoration being checked as he sits on his custom-made mount, ready to go in the case.

The mule-shaped couch decoration being checked as he sits on his custom-made mount, ready to go in the case.

Part way through the installation: Bacchus has some new friends.

Part way through the installation: Bacchus has some new friends.

And to see the rest of the objects on loan from the British Museum, you will have to come to the exhibition, which starts this Saturday.

A ‘melting pot’? Pottery use and dining in pre-Roman Britain

by Guest Blogger: Adam Sutton (to see more about Adam go to our ‘guest bloggers’ page)

Pottery is a very versatile kind of archaeological artefact. As archaeologists we love using it for dating our sites and the features that occur on them, and ceramics specialists also often use a variety of methods to try to work out where different types of pottery were made, in order to talk about distribution patterns and reconstruct ancient trade. However in recent years pottery has also been used as evidence to talk about the consumption of food and drink in the past; after all, most pottery – then as now – is simply what people used to store, prepare, and serve food.

A previous post has already discussed the evidence for foreign foods at late Iron Age Silchester and pointed out how diet appears to have been changing during this period. This post will look at the pottery from this period in a similar light – whereas plant remains can tell us about what was being eaten in the past, pottery can inform us about how those foods were being eaten, which I hope to show is of equal importance.

The pottery being used and produced in southern Britain during the late Iron Age and early Roman periods (broadly, the first centuries BC and AD) went through some quite fundamental changes and was highly distinct from vessels being used previously. Earlier Iron Age pot forms are typically very simple ‘open’ or ‘closed’ forms, i.e. corresponding to modern ideas of jars and bowls. It is thought that much of what was prepared in these simple vessels was ‘wet’ food such as stews and porridges, which, in the apparent absence of any real tablewares would have been eaten communally from the pot in which the food was cooked, or perhaps from a single service vessel. In the first century BC, however, pottery changed radically. A wider variety of forms became available in southern Britain, some of which seem to have been meant for display and specifically designed for the service of food and/or drink.

The changing range of pottery forms in the region of East Anglia, c. 125 BC (top) through to c. 10 BC (bottom) (image: J.D. Hill (2002)).

The changing range of pottery forms in the region of East Anglia, c. 125 BC (top) through to c. 10 BC (bottom) (image: J.D. Hill (2002)).

Many of these forms, such as plates, flagons, beakers and small bowls originated in northern Gaul (France) and Belgium, and signify drastically changing ways of consuming food and drink. The use of plates, for example, shows that ‘drier’ dishes were sometimes being served, whilst flagons suggest an emphasis on communal drinking associated with food. Finds of amphorae – large ceramic containers for transporting wine, olive oil, dried fruit, etc. from the Mediterranean – in wealthy burials such as that at Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, show that the elites of this period had access to imported foodstuffs and seem to have developed a particular fondness for Roman wine. In addition, the ceramics used to make many of these tablewares are of far higher quality than those known in Britain previously, and would have presented a more diverse range of colours, textures and sounds when used at the table, contributing to a completely different dining experience than previously.

Reconstruction of the Welwyn Garden City cremation-burial, showing a selection of flagons, bowls, plates and drinking vessels, as well as several imported wine amphorae. Image by Andres Rueda via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)].

Reconstruction of the Welwyn Garden City cremation-burial, showing a selection of flagons, bowls, plates and drinking vessels, as well as several imported wine amphorae. Image by Andres Rueda via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D.

All of this change has been interpreted in different ways by archaeologists. In the 1980s it was popular to see the use of new kinds of pottery and foodstuffs as the preserve of tribal elites, who used their tablewares to advertise their access to expensive imports and their knowledge of exotic ways of eating and drinking (Haselgrove 1982; Millett 1990). There may be a degree of truth in this, but recently more emphasis has been put on the changing role of food and drink in everyday life in the late Iron Age. In particular, it is revealing that not only the use of pottery changed in the late Iron Age, but also that pottery production changed. The introduction of the potter’s wheel, for example, suggests a move towards mass-production, in turn suggesting that demand for pottery increased as a result of changing consumption habits. This probably means that people in general – rather than the elites in particular – wanted more good-quality pottery with which to serve food and drink (Hill 2002).

But why did food and drink consumption change in the ways they did? The archaeology of the late Iron Age highlights growing links between Britain and the rest of Europe, and we have seen that this is well reflected in the pottery in the form of Mediterranean amphorae and northern French tablewares, themselves based to a large extent on Roman vessels. So does this mean we can in fact say that people were taking on a ‘Roman’ or ‘Mediterranean’ style of dining? More likely is that people in Britain were simply becoming more aware of the wider world – including but not limited to the Roman world – at this time, and that this was reflected in their dining habits. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that individuals and groups were relocating from the continent to Britain around this time (e.g. Fulford 2000; Timby 2013), and it is indeed conceivable that similar movement in the other direction also occurred. Food, being an important factor in signifying cultural identities and developing and invoking memories, is likely to have played an important role in how these communities perceived themselves, and perhaps in how they wished others to perceive them.

In this context we may see certain parallels between the late Iron Age of southern Britain and our modern world. Today, the process that we would call globalisation has resulted in a great degree of awareness of other cultures, and in particular has greatly expanded peoples’ knowledge of practices of eating and drinking that were traditionally only a feature of dining overseas. One now only needs to go into a high street cookware shop to find items such as woks, tagines, bamboo steamers, etc., whereas a generation or two ago these would not have been readily available; similarly, one needs only to take a look around the average British kitchen to find that such items are not only used by people from overseas or their descendants. Perhaps we can envisage a similar situation in the final generations of the Iron Age (Pitts 2008)? Britons may have become accustomed to meeting Gauls, Belgians, or Romans (or their descendants) in their everyday lives, and their dining habits may have been influenced by new ideas of eating and drinking that these individuals brought from their homelands. A similar process of fusion may have also occurred between these immigrant communities and the pre-existing British dining customs.

Drawing conclusions of this kind from archaeological evidence is riddled with complications, and I emphasise the fact that any single line of interpretation is usually inadequate to explain the plethora of evidence at our disposal. However, the evidence seems clear in showing that the uses of pottery in southern Britain were changing over the course of several generations prior to the Roman conquest. This almost certainly reflects changes in the ways in which food and drink were consumed, and tallies very nicely with the plant remains now being investigated from contemporary sites such as Silchester. Quite what it all means, however, remains a matter for future work and speculation.

References:

Fulford, M.G., 2000. Synthesis. In Late Iron Age and Roman Silchester: excavations on the site of the forum-basilica 1977, 1980-86. London: Britannia Monograph 15, pp. 545–564.

Haselgrove, C., 1982. Wealth, prestige and power: the dynamics of late iron age political centralisation in south-east England. In C. Renfrew & S. Shennan, eds. Ranking, resource and exchange: aspects of the archaeology of early European society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 79–88.

Hill, J.D., 2002. Just about the potter’s wheel? Using, making and depositing middle and later Iron Age pots in East Anglia. In A. Woodward & J. D. Hill, eds. Prehistoric Britain: The Ceramic Basis. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 143–160.

Millett, M., 1990. The Romanization of Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pitts, M., 2008. Globalizing the local in Roman Britain: An anthropological approach to social change. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 27(4), pp. 493–506.

Timby, J., 2013. A French connection? A brief review of early Roman pottery production in southern Britain. In H. Eckardt & S. Rippon, eds. Living and working in the Roman world: Essays in honour of Michael Fulford on his 65th birthday. Portsmouth, RI: JRA Supplementary Series 95, pp. 155–168.

Happy Valentine’s Day! A Roman oyster recipe

The Romans seem to have been very fond of oysters. In Britain, we find large numbers of oyster shells on Roman sites, particularly on temples. This is interesting as shellfish seems to have been avoided as a foodstuff in Britain after the Mesolithic. The presence of oyster shells, then, on sites in the Roman period represents a big change in tastes and food rules.

Apicius (9.VI) gives us a recipe for oyster sauce.

in ostreis: piper ligusticum oui uitellum acetum liquamen oleum et uinum. Si uolueris et mel addes.

 Sauce for oysters: pepper, lovage, egg yolk, vinegar, liquamen, oil and wine. You can also add honey if you like.

Oyster shells and a mussel shell from Roman Cirencester (courtesy of Corinium Museum).

Oyster shells and a mussel shell from Roman Cirencester (courtesy of Corinium Museum).

If you want to make this yourself, buy fresh oysters and open them as close to the time of eating as possible. The oysters can be served raw, or baked in their shell (we think the Romans preferred to bake theirs).

Ingredients

Fresh oysters

Pinch of ground black pepper

Pinch of lovage seeds (celery seeds will do, if you can’t find lovage)

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp Thai fish sauce

1tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp white wine

1 tbsp honey (optional)

 

To make the sauce, mix a pinch of pepper and lovage with egg yolks. Then add the vinegar a drop at a time, as if making a mayonnaise. Finally, add in the olive oil and white wine, so that you get a smooth sauce. Season with the Thai fish sauce, to taste. Add in the honey, if you want a sweeter sauce. Serve immediately.